"And concerning the girls
– all of us wanted to be a little Don Draper."
– all of us wanted to be a little Don Draper."
Behind the scenes of the 50th anniversary of the Jahrbuch der Werbung – and of Willi Schalk's life as a true Mad Man.
For those lads who do not know Willi Schalk: shame on you! The famous German magazine Der Spiegel once headlined: "Willi the kid". It's the year 1986 when Willi heads BBDO Worldwide in New York. Straight after the infamous Allen Rosenshine, Willi is the most important guy of BBDO during the late 1980s. At that time, he is responsible for numerous dependances of BBDO all over the world. That's why other media called him "Worldwide Willi". It's a life between the continents. From the US to Germany, from Australia to South Africa, from Japan to wherever. It's a life up in the air. Bonus miles guaranteed.
Willi – born in 1940 – is a selfmade man. Neither an university-entrance diploma nor a real education as an advertiser. Nevertheless, he managed to become one of the most important German ad guys during the 1980s. In 1986, Willi is even counted among the driving forces of the merger between the advertising agency networks DDB, Needham Harper Steers and BBDO to the holding Omnicom. The New York Times compared that deal with the birth of "a new superpower in the advertising industry". And it definitely was. By now, Omnicom is the heaviest juggernaut in the global ad biz: 70.000 employees, a revenue of 13 billion $ and an international network of more than 1.500 agencies worldwide – including BBDO, DDB and TBWA. The starting shot for this historical deal was fired on a boozy sailing trip on the Elbe near Hamburg. It seems to be an unbelievable Mad Men's story for its own: Having some beers and creating the new "superpower" in advertising en passant. Allen Rosenshine once fancied: "Willi has a keen mind, brilliant ideas and an enchanting charm." After hearing all that stuff, we can say that Willi could have a little clue concering advertising.
|Jahr der Werbung: Megaphon trophies|
Well, the day after is a cold and dismal saturday – a typical February day in Berlin. Willi comes directly from the JdW editors' breakfast at Ritz Carlton which is located just around the corner of the ALEX. He's had a diced bacon and onion omelet. "I am full.", he remarks. After having a small cigar (Dannemann Rozet) and ordering a hot lemonade because of a cold, Willi immediately starts to chitchat. He still seems to be amused by the memory of the get-together of the JdW's new and old editors. Willi belongs to those "old" editors. The JdW has been one of the numerous projects that Willi managed besides his fascinating career in the advertising business and later in the media branch. Together with Helmut Thoma and Peter Strahlendorf, Willi released the JdW for the last 20 years – starting in 1991. The troika has a large share concerning the further development of the JdW. They introduced the title Newcomer Agency Of The Year and the Megaphon awards as well – two essential incredients of the JdW even today. By the way, the first winner of the Megaphon award: a Toyota ad from the year 1993. Legendary ...
I am asking Willi if he feels any kind of nostalgia about the end of an era. "Actually not.", Willi answers in a satisfied way. "But there has been one moment the last night, I had very strange feelings.", he adds. The moment he is referring to was the laudatory speech of Michael Trautmann. Willi tries to explain what he means by these strange feelings: "Holy shit, it sounded like an obituary!" And he continues with an amused smile: "Well, I decided two things yesterday: In my last will, I will declare Michael Trautmann as the writer of my funeral oration. And moreover, I will appoint the unknown art director of Leo Burnett for designing my death notice."
|Death notice for Walter Lürzer – created by Leo Burnett|
Well, let's take a look back into the year 1964 when the JdW was being introduced by Eckhard Neumann and Wolfgang Sprang. The JdW firstly started under the name: "Werbung in Deutschland – Jahrbuch der deutschen Werbung". It was the first widespread documentary of German ads in retrospect to one complete year. It should illustrate a cross section of German advertising. And that's still the character Willi describes: "The Art Directors Club is responsible for the genuine hotshots. The JdW illustrates the cross section." And he adds, shaking his head: "Unfortunately, we should award the golden lemon as well." Because some agencies seemingly submit worthless junk.
While the JdW was getting started during the 1960s, Willi followed suit. When working in a medium-size industry company as marketing director, a certain Jürgen Scholz – later the founder of Scholz & Friends – asked Willi to join the "other side". "Mr. Scholz, I have no understanding of advertising.", Willi replied politely. "Well, that doesn't matter. We don't understand it as well. We just act as if ...", Scholz countered. This has been the starting point of Willi's career in advertising. While keeping this first exciting years in mind, Willi remembers a very extraordinary party in Düsseldorf. At that time, Düsseldorf was the hotspot of the German advertising branch. It's fair to say that Düsseldorf was the heart of the German Mad Men during the late 1960s. Frankfurt was the second pulsating city for ad guys. Hamburg was in it's infancy. And Berlin didn't really exist at that time. Well, back to Düsseldorf. The year is 1968 or 1969, however it's the heyday of the hippie movement. The famous advertising agency Special Team – later known as Team/BBDO – is having a party in an underground parking garage in the middle of Düsseldorf. Suddenly, two policemen arrive in front of the building. Willi leaves the underground garage and tries to explain the events: "Well, gentlemen … I know: it might be a little too loud … But we are an advertising agency. There is just a handful young folks celebrating …" One of the policemen replies: "Well, could we have a look inside?" After climbing down the stairs and entering the underground garage, they aren't able to see their hands in front of their faces. A sweetish smell is in the air. And on the walls … a selection of self-made porn movies is running.
What the fuck?! Self-made porn movies?! I interrupt Willi's anecdote in total disbelief. And he explains with the following words: "These self-made porn movies … Well, it was kind of a swap meet – especially between BBDO and DDB. It simply was kind of a competition." And he summarises with a chuckle: "Well, the young avant-garde carried on the sexual revolution more quickly and more consequently. And the advertising business was of course a central part of it."
But back to the story: The two policemen guide Willi in front of the building and one of them instructs him: "Do the following: close the garage door and turn the music down. Concerning the rest, the neighbours hopefully won't notice it. And I don't want to give you further instructions regarding these other things ..." What a cooperation!
That's definitely a Mad Men's story through and through. And compared to the original Mad Men from Madison Avenue in New York, Willi notes: "During the 1960s and 1970s, the differences between advertising agencies in New York and Düsseldorf weren't that huge." And he continues: "At our place, the woman affairs played a more important role than in New York. Perhaps, the Americans boozed more than we did. But when it came to how pick up the girls … All of us wanted to be a little Don Draper." And if anybody knows it, it's certainly Willi Schalk. Because he experienced both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
|Willi Schalk while talking to Michael Conrad|
And what's about the development of German advertising against the background of 50 years of JdW? Willi resumes that Germany was considered to be globally one of the most creative ad scenes – especially relating to create adverts during the 1960s and 1970s. But by introducing the commercial television, the Germans lost a lot of their international rank. "In the early days, German commercials were ordinary filmed adverts." Willi judges the German advertising branch of today to be leading nowhere – but still it's mixing it at the top everywhere.
Finally, in answer to the question why he now – at the age of 73 – ends his role as one of the JdW's editors Willi replies casually: "Basically and philosophically, everything in life has a good reason and a real reason ..." And Willi grins.
Oh, by the way: the day after of course had a night before … And that night was quite entertaining. See for yourself ...
William James Carlton
PS: Some book advices by Willi Schalk:
By Phil Dusenberry
Gaukler, Gambler und Gestalter: Die Autobiographie: Persönliche Geschichten aus einem erstaunlichen Gewerbe
By Vilim Vasata
By Allen Rosenshine